Who needs an office? Today’s digital workplace is mobile by nature, and a new generation of workers feel just as comfortable working from Starbucks as they do working from a cubicle.
The biggest argument for remote working arrangements is improved work-life balance; who wouldn’t want to cut out their commute altogether? Even as telecommuting continues to become more common, though, some negative stereotypes persist. Some think that people working from home aren’t as productive as in-office workers or that they’re disconnected from company culture and their colleagues.
In a recent study from Robert Half Technology, 34 percent of CIOs surveyed said communication issues are their top challenge when managing remote teams. Productivity was the next most common issue, at 23 percent, followed by technology problems (19 percent) and security concerns (19 percent).
These challenges are not insurmountable. Working successfully with a telecommuting staff comes down to good management and knowing your team. Here are some tips.
Set specific goals.
Include all your remote workers in planning meetings and recurring meetings to make sure that they’re aware of updates as well as the big picture. It will also help them prioritize work and manage their time. All members of your team should know what goals they and the team are working toward for the week, the month, the quarter and the year.
Check in regularly.
Don’t rely solely on email to stay in touch with remote members of your team. Set up frequent meetings with each staffer to touch base and keep the connection strong. Speaking on the phone works, but you might consider videoconferencing, too. With the added layer of facial expressions and body language, talking face-to-face enables you understand more clearly what your employee is saying and vice versa. Make sure everyone knows how to reach you when an issue is time-sensitive, too.
Use collaborative tech tools.
There are many great options to help distant staffers collaborate. To emulate the experience of water-cooler interactions and cut down on unnecessary email, many offices are embracing collaborative chat tools. Many project management software tools were designed with remote teams in mind. Messaging and video chat tools are also very important for telecommuting teams.
Be clear about your expectations.
To avoid any misconceptions, make sure every remote worker knows what you expect of him or her. If employees need to be punctual and always available during work hours, make that crystal clear. If you are more flexible and focused on results rather than minutes spent on the clock, let your staff know. Perhaps you want a weekly email update from each member of your team, or you may prefer that people update a master spreadsheet of projects. Figure out what works for you, and make sure everyone knows.
Recognize their achievements.
Remote workers should be eligible for any awards or recognition that office-based employees are. Even though you might not see their faces in the office every day, you should remember to keep them in the running for recognition programs and acknowledgement. At the very least, remember to write a “good job” email to people working from home whose work you’d otherwise acknowledge casually in the office. You can also call out their achievement in your group chat platform.
Make training inclusive.
Consider your telecommuting team members’ experience when you’re planning development and training activities. Should a training session happen via phone conference, webinar or video chat? If a meeting consists of numerous slides that off-site people can’t see, it’s not going to be very engaging as a phone call. Since it’s difficult to gauge how engaged your audience is if you can’t see it, be sure to allow for feedback throughout a session and save a good amount of time for questions at the end.
There may be times when having all hands on deck is necessary or just nice to have. Some companies budget to bring their remote workers into headquarters or to an off-site retreat quarterly or once a year for face time and team-building.
The Future of Telecommuting
It may not be the way your company wants to go, but be aware of recent reports that describe a shift in remote working. Once considered a top perk for workers, the telecommuting tide may be changing. A survey of more than 7,400 North American tech professionals by Robert Half Technology found that only 17 percent prefer working remotely exclusively (12 percent as part of a virtual team and 5 percent autonomously). The large majority (73 percent) prefer an office environment.
While some technology companies have embraced remote working with fully distributed teams, a number of corporations have made headlines in the past few years for cutting telecommuting altogether. What does that mean for the future of remote working? Every company’s situation is unique, but what’s always key for firms that continue to allow and promote it is making sure telecommuters have all the same advantages as in-office personnel.